Monday, October 12, 2009

Oh, she can see the cars - she just can't get out of their way

We drove to the Eastern Shore of Maryland the other night to see Nick Lowe perform. It was a good show, Bill Kirchen opened, and both of those old men rocked, and crooned, and seemed to enjoy themselves. We did too, although it was a little weird to be the youngest people at a show. At our age.

The last time I saw Nick Lowe, I was in college in Cleveland. I borrowed a car to get there, pouring pouring pouring rain that night, but he played almost 3 hours for the 75 people who had struggled through the monsoon to get there. I say I borrowed a car. Well, I borrowed the keys. The guy who owned the car didn't know I was doing that. And actually, the girl to whom he'd lent a set of keys didn't know I was doing that either. And then I drove through a flooded intersection on the way back to the East Side and the car stalled out and wouldn't start, so I left it there and walked the rest of the way home.

So I guess technically I stole a car to get to that show. And I'm embarrassed about it.

I was thinking about that night on the way to see the show, and shaking my head trying to remember the train of thought that led to me committing basically a felony (Del Fuegos opened, did I mention? It really was one of the best shows I've ever seen.), when we passed onto Kent Island and I remembered another story.

Man, talk about BAD DECISIONS.

This is a story I call The Kent Island Massacre. It's a BAD STORY. I am using the pseudonyms from Reservoir Dogs, it's so bad. I was there. Here's what happened.

At 26 years of age, I had been promoted from tech support to Director of Marketing for that insurance company I worked for. Yeah how does that happen? The president of the company saw a flyer I'd made announcing an update to the software, and decided I was a "marketing person." Decided that, as an Anthropology major with zero marketing experience, I was cheap, and could be bullied. I hated that company. So I went from being on the IT team to the Sales team.

The IT team had been headed up by an old stoner, a tiny little Richard Thompson - loving hippie who liked to say he hadn't "sold out - I've bought in." That guy, I liked.

The Sales team was headed up by a willfully obnoxious, childishly overweight prick who seemed to think that he was entitled to... to make phone calls to employees while he was sitting on the toilet. To unbend a paperclip during a meeting and clean his ears with it. He would take your glasses off your face, saying, "You've got something on your glasses," lick the lenses, and give them back to you, and giggle. If you sat next to him on an airplane, he'd spill a drink in your lap while the seatbelt sign was lit, and laugh while he groped your ass under the pretext of helping to mop it up. During the course of his employ with that company, he was sued three times for sexual harassment.

You might think a corporate retreat with this guy was something to be avoided. YOU WOULD BE RIGHT.

One spring, the sales team, including myself, headed to a beautiful inn on Kent Island, just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Most of us had worked for weeks on the presentations we were to give. As the resident graphics person, I had worked for weeks on EVERYONE's presentation. I hated that company.

The first night of the retreat, we all went to dinner somewhere. The boss - let's call him Mr. Brown, like Quentin Tarantino's character in Reservoir Dogs - was famous for running up giant dinner tabs. Many bottles of wine, several thousand dollars. So that happened. And then there was a bar.

At the bar, Mr. Brown started buying rounds of shots for the house. A couple hundred bucks a round - this was a semi-fancy sportsmen's bar, the kind of place with a fireplace. I remember the fireplace.

I don't drink shots, so I sat, one girl among a dozen men, drank a beer, was mortified and bored, and schemed how to get the car keys away from Brown, whom I knew would insist on driving back on the dark country roads to our inn.

Until. I don't know. I'm guessing they tried to cut him off, or he made one "redneck" comment too many, but all of a sudden, we were all leaving. There was some shoving, and one of the nicest guys in the group, we're calling him Mr. Orange, a civilized man with a nice wife and good suits, got knocked into the fireplace. Smacked his head on the marble mantel. Started to bleed.

I actually had the car keys at this moment, I'd snatched them off the bar. We were herding everyone out of the bar and packing into the car, when Brown demanded them back from me. He wouldn't get into the car without them, and kept threatening to go back into the bar, so I handed them over. There must have been at least six of us in that car, with Mr. Orange across our laps in the back, bleeding, when Mr. Brown started up the car, backed it up about six feet, then put it in drive and drove straight into the bar.

Rammed the building, yes he did. Backed up and did it again.

Now, I have done things out of spite. I once broke a bathroom fixture in a restaurant that I thought had treated my friends and I unfairly. I encouraged my friends to urinate on the lumber that was stacked in the yard of an allegedly corrupt Cleveland city councilman who was building an unsightly house right in the middle of our historic and picturesque campus. But I like to think that, had I been driving, and even had I been as drunk as Mr. Brown was on that night, I would not have attempted to punish the physical edifice of that bar for the perceived slights of its staff and/or patrons.


The car is eventually piloted back to the inn, where there is discussion as to who will accompany the unfortunate Mr. Orange to the ER. Nobody thinks Mr. Brown should go. But he does, along with Mr. White and Mr. Blue, level-headed guys who are large enough to physically restrain him should he get stupid. -er. Again.

I stay at the inn. I want no more of this foolishness. When I wake up the next morning, to a dazzling Eastern Shore day, I quickly realize that our presentations are canceled. Cars are missing from the parking lot. Nobody is at breakfast. The only person around is Nice Guy Eddie, a Southerner who was a little older, a little more savvy, than the rest of us. He always knew when to keep his head down and when to take a pass, and he's packing to leave. He had NOT chosen to go to the bar the night before, naturally.

Nice Guy Eddie recommended a tactical retreat to Baltimore, maybe hitting the outlets on the way, and we made a pleasant day of it. I bought one of my favorite skirts of all time at the J. Crew outlet that day - a long, full, sweepy ivory-colored job that I still have in the closet.

A few weeks later, at work, I was asked into the Comptroller's office. She asked me a few VERY pointed questions about that night on Kent Island, and I BEGGED her to let me elaborate. I was absolutely sure Mr. Brown would fire me if he knew I'd told on him, but I thought if they fired him first I'd be ok.

They didn't fire him. Well, actually, they did eventually fire him. Not for that. And not for the multiple complaints and three successful lawsuits accusing him of fondling, groping, and making inappropriate comments to female employees. He was fired when the wife of one of his male employees called the company's HR guy. Told a story about Mr. Brown sort of maybe kinda making a pass at her husband. Mr. Brown was asked to pack his things, and he was escorted from the building. Within the hour.

God, I hated that company. No wonder Nice Guy Eddie kept his head down. You guys who think Mad Men is so much fun... I don't know, I don't think I would enjoy that show.

Years later, I found out the parts of the story I hadn't witnessed. Mr. White, who eventually found a successful career NOT selling insurance financing, told me that the reason so many people were missing the next morning was that, at the hospital, Mr. Brown had punched a cop.

That's right. Poor Mr. Orange is getting his wound stitched, and a cop asks our boys to move the company car parked haphazardly outside the ER entrance. Doesn't even ask about the damage - doesn't even start to accuse my boss of driving drunk - and Brown starts shouting and spitting and eventually somehow hits the cop. Short little pudgy Mr. Brown, who collected these good-looking, strapping men around him as if he were a big gay sultan.

The sultan goes to jail. Is given a sobriety test. The boys follow.

Mr. Blue spends the remainder of the night and much of the next morning driving around looking for an ATM that will spit out enough money to pay Mr. Brown's bail.

Mr. White is stuck at the police station babysitting Mr. Brown.

Mr. Orange is discharged from the hospital and walks out into that beautiful morning wondering where the fuck everyone went.

Hey, I bought a really nice skirt and had a lovely lunch with Nice Guy Eddie. Not a total loss.